Canada Day: A Reflection on Our History

Canada Day: A Reflection on Our History

For many, the first of July is a national holiday that celebrates the anniversary of Canada and the birth of Confederation in 1867. However, for others, it’s a reminder of their stolen lands and the lives taken in these efforts. It is also a reminder of the voices that are left unheard by the veil of unity and multiculturalism, which dismiss the oppression and racism on which this nation was built. Since white-European settlers first colonized Turtle Island, communities of colour have been marginalized and racialized, and this marginalization remains to this day. 

Though many of Canada’s values are founded on the idea of multiculturalism, many fail to recognize the acts of racial discrimination that the ideal of multiculturalism masks. Some examples from our history include: 

  • The hostile reception of Chinese immigrants in British Columbia in the late 1800s, which included their forced labour to build and maintain the Canadian Pacific Railroad 
  • The establishment of residential schools in 1867 through “The Indian Act,” which was based on the belief that European customs and traditions were superior compared to those of the First Nations
  • The Japanese-Canadian Internment during WWII in which the Canadian government ordered that all persons of Japanese racial origin be removed from “restricted zones,” such as the coast, and forcibly kept in internment camps 
  • The refused entry of Jewish refugees who escaped persecution by the Nazis
  • The passing of Bill C-63, the Canadian Anti-Terrorism Act, allowing racial profiling of specific individuals at borders
  • And many more…

While many believe that racism no longer exists here in Canada, the experiences of Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) in Canada prove that we still have a long way to go. 

Here are some of our experiences as members of the BIPOC community:

“It’s time to do better.”

“The educational curriculum in Ontario is one of the many reasons why, as a Black-Canadian, most of the racism I have experienced has been swept under the rug or deemed as hypersensitivity. Canada’s brand is built on multiculturalism and welcoming to our neighbours, and this, I believe, has created a facade that racism doesn’t exist in Canada. In turn, this has, in the past, made me question whether my feelings were valid and justified. In my grade seven Social Studies class, I remember learning about John Cabot, Samuel de Champlain, and a slew of predominantly white-male “settlers.” We were taught in a way that not only diluted the history of racism in Canada, but for a long time made me believe that Canada’s founding was by a battle of European men on a quest to find land, and not by the erasure of Indigenous peoples. For many students like me, we learn about our Blackness through our parents, Black teachers, if we have any, and our experiences navigating society. The problem is that for those who aren’t Black, they grow up ignorant of the generational struggles of systemic racism on Black lives. The education system lacks transparency, and as a result, the onus to teach falls on the shoulders of Black youth, non-profit organizations, and activists. It’s time to do better.” 

— Nicole Osayande Founder of Queen’s Student Diversity Project

“Institutional and systemic racism continues to prevail behind the mask of a diverse and tolerant Canadian population.”

“As an international student, my experience is different from Nicole’s as I have not been engaged with the Canadian school curriculum before Post-secondary. Yet, through my own experiences and exposure to Canadian culture, I have seen how BIPOC continuously are racialized in Canada. Being in Canada, I realized that there is a strong rivalry with the US, especially regarding proving that Canada is the best in terms of anti-racism, social justice, and hospitality. However, I have realized that this rivalry is more demeaning than anything because it invalidates and alters the truth about Canada’s racial history. Canadian history is shaped by colonization, slavery, and the mass-genocide of Indigenous peoples. However, denying the fact that Canada’s history does not make Canada better and a more multicultural and welcoming country. Instead, it furthers the systematic and institutional racism on which Canada was founded without any effort to address it. Coming to Canada and educating myself about this country beyond its nationalist discourse made me realize that Indigenous peoples continue to face the legacies of racism and oppression. These colonial legacies manifest in different ways, such as not having access to clean water or inaction by law enforcement in the face of targeted violence towards their women and communities.

While Canada is a diverse country, we must not use it as a solution and proof that racism does not exist. Institutional and systemic racism continues to prevail behind the mask of a diverse and tolerant Canadian population. In a country where racism is made ‘invisible,’ diversity becomes a double edged sword. On the one hand, it encourages multiculturalism and exposes the nation to different cultures, backgrounds, and traditions. On the other hand, diversity can be harmful when implemented as ‘colour blindness’ combined with race-neutral practices which ultimately fail to acknowledge the systems of oppression racialized individuals continue to face within a self-proclaimed ‘colour-blind’ society. Ignoring issues of racism that affect racialized and marginalized individuals does not eliminate oppression but instead allows it to continue without being detected or addressed adequately. Without proper actions and a change in our policies and laws, BIPOC will continue to experience harm on a number of levels due to unchecked racism. 

There are many anti-racist actions that you can do as an individual and as a community. An example of necessary anti-racist actions is to properly educate yourself on Canada’s racial history and your complicity in it. For example, we spoke of the settler colonialism by white-Europeans; however, many, if not all, of us are complicit in this by benefiting from these stolen lands without informing ourselves of the histories. In my journey to become more aware of Canadian racial history, I read research by BIPOC scholars on racial history, social justice, policing, and other issues. Some of my favourite references are Professor Kim TallBear, Professor Annette Henry, Professor Eve Tuck, Professor K.Wayne Yang, and Dr. Angie Morrill. Another way to educate yourself and become aware of racism in Canada would be to listen to the narrative of BIPOC. Podcasts such as Colour Code, Black Tea, and Race, Health, Happiness are a great gateway to informing yourself.” 

— Fatoumata Tounkara Co-President of Queen’s Student Diversity Project

“Reflect on Canada as a country and how we can better it for equity and justice.”

Paying attention to protests is an accessible yet informative avenue to learn about anti-racism and anti-oppression work in Canada because demonstrations are used as a tool by marginalized and racialized communities to be heard. Finally, getting involved in your community effectively supports marginalized and racialized communities because significant changes always arise from repetitive small actions. Some ways to get involved locally would be to sign up for organizations, spark the conversation of current racial discrimination within your community, and get involved in anti-racist activities. While gestures to support the marginalized communities are thoughtful (such as reposting on your Instagram story, or Trudeau kneeling in support of the Black community), they do not eliminate the institutional and systemic racism that the BIPOC community has experienced and continues to experience today. However, anti-racist actions from an individual, a community, and a nation, are essential as they acknowledge and address issues of racism. Furthermore, they are a step towards creating a safer and fairer space for everyone. On this first of July, we ask that you not only celebrate Canada, but also reflect on Canada as a country and how we can better it for equity and justice.

HEADER IMAGE SOURCE: https://www.flickr.com/photos/gotovan/49976256622

 

THIS ARTICLE IS IN COLLABORATION WITH THE QUEEN’S STUDENT DIVERSITY PROJECT (QSDP). IT WAS WRITTEN BY THE QSDP FOUNDER NICOLE OSAYANDE AND THE QSDP CO-PRESIDENT FATOUMATA TOUNKARA.

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